Banana production: the return of the disease in Panama raises fears of the disappearance of the fruit

Worse than the shortage, we fear the loss of one of the most famous fruits in the world: the banana.

Known for decades, the Panama disease has returned again in a more severe form that seriously threatens the production of yellow fruit. There are solutions, but they raise ethical questions or time problems for their implementation.

In Martinique, an investigation was opened after the use of a phytoregulator to give a more yellow tint to still green bananas. Ethephon is allowed for pineapple, but not for yellow fruit. If this case found in the market of Fort-de-France raises a question of transparency vis-à-vis consumers, it anchors the banana more than the box of foods to protect so that we can continue to eating it in the long term..

Scientists are really trying to find a solution to preserve the most widespread type, the Cavendish, which represents 97% of the world trade. Because yes, our snack recommended by nutritionists to calm small appetites, is at risk due to the rise of a disease that has been known for a long time to attack banana trees until they die.

What is this disease?

Panama disease is not new. Also called “AIDS growing in the banana”, this disease takes the form of a fungus that not only attacks the root but can also reappear years later if it is still in the soil. The short-term results are seen in the bananas themselves, which turn brown and end up rotting.

This infection got its name in the 1950s when the fungus destroyed banana plants in the Panama region. At that time, another variety was eaten: the Gros Michel. Cavendish proved stronger. But now the disease has reappeared in recent years in a more severe form, destroying entire banana farms around the world where the plant is grown.

According to the Nikkei newspaper, Vietnam’s banana production has dropped 71% in 25 years. And one would fear such a big loss to China or the Philippines. In the 1990s, a new strain of Panama disease was found in Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia. The fungus is able to cross the ocean because it was also seen in Colombia in 2019, where a state of emergency was even declared, after Peru last year. Affection is finally available in about twenty countries of the world.

Apart from the food issue, the situation also threatens economic systems. India is the leading producer of bananas, with 30.5 million tons produced in 2019, ahead of China and the Philippines. In terms of exports, Latin American countries supply the American and European markets. Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are the main drivers.

There are solutions, but…

Faced with the emergency, scientists are thinking about many answers to save our bananas that can give birth to a new type. In Australia, researchers have changed the genetic map of the fruit, producing GMO, a type of food that is prohibited by many regulations in different countries. And then, will consumers also agree to peel a genetically modified banana?

A track also consists of growing banana trees in a compost made from coconut and rock wool. Otherwise, in the Netherlands, at the University of Wageningen, a scientist named Doctor Kema is working on creating a new type of banana. If this work gives optimism for the future, it also imposes patience because it will take at least six to seven years for this new banana plant to produce fruits in sufficient quantities to be used in stores.

If such results occur, the good news that will delight gourmets will concern the taste of the new bananas, which are more delicious than the Cavendish, whose sweet taste we regret when it lives in the old, Gros Michael .

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